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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Police (10/12/06)

TITLE: Lesson Learned
By Joanne Sher


A sharp wind entered the small house. Closing the door behind him, Chaim brushed the snow off his pants, pulled his Siddur from his woolen coat's inside pocket, and hung the wrap on a wooden peg by the door. Shutting the door behind him, he looked into the front room and found that a handful of his friends were already seated crosslegged on the floor chatting quietly, their prayer books open.

"Shalom, Chaim," a young boy with mousy brown hair and a mischievous grin said in muffled tones. "Sit by me today, OK?"

Chaim smiled and took his place beside his friend.

"Get your lesson done, Eli?"

"Mostly," Eli whispered. "Had trouble memorizing Judah Maccabee's dad's name!"

Chaim nodded.

One more student arrived, sitting to Chaim's left.

Soon Maxim Lainer entered the room. He scrutinized each face, and after assuring himself there were no uninvited guests, he locked the front door and pulled the drapes closed.

"OK. Let us begin with the Shema."

The students rose, and Mr. Lainer gestured that they begin. Seven voices, in not-so-perfect chorus, then recited the six most precious words in all Judaism: "Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad."

"And who remembers it in English?"

About half of the boys raised their hands. Mr. Lainer gestured toward Chaim.

"Hear, oh Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one."

Mr. Lainer smiled and nodded, then signaled for the boys to sit down.

"Who can tell me what starts at sundown today?"

Several boys shouted out "Hanukkah" with huge smiles on their faces.

Mr. Lainer looked at them disapprovingly and went to the front room window. He peered out for a moment, then replaced the drapery.

"You boys should know better than that - keep those voices down!"

The boys muttered apologies.

"Well, despite that, you are right, of course. Hanukkah does start this evening. I know we've talked about why we celebrate: the Maccabees, the desecration of the Temple, the oil that miraculously lasted eight days. I have some more information to share about this holiday - a historical fact you might find quite interesting."

"Does anyone know why playing dreidel is part of the holiday celebration?"

Mr. Lainer pulled a small wooden top from his pocket. It had four sides, with a different Hebrew letter on each face.

"To help us remember the miracle?" one boy volunteered.

"Sure, Nathan, that is part of it. But the main reason was to protect the Syrian Jews from the government that forbad them from practicing their religion."

That got their attention. All eyes were glued on Mr. Lainer.

"You mean, like us, sir?" Eli asked in amazement.

Mr. Lainer nodded. "When Jews were under Syrian control, it was against the law to study Torah, just as it is here. But, just like us, they followed God's commandments, his mitzvot, and studied anyway."

"But what does that have to do with a dreidel?"

Smiling, Mr. Lainer continued. "A student would always keep a dreidel in his pocket. If the police came by, he would close his book, pull the dreidel out and pretend to be playing."

Mr. Lainer then pulled several dreidels out of his pocket, giving one to each boy. He allowed them to play a while, before having them put the dreidels away and get back to the lesson.

"Let's review the three blessings that are said over the Hanukkah candles tonight. Turn in your Siddurs to page..."

Mr. Lainer turned with a start as he heard an insistent, repetitive pounding on the door. He put his books in a closet, stuffed his dreidel back in his pocket and went cautiously to the door.

A glance through the peephole relieved his fear of the authorities, but the look on his dear friend Slava's face did not calm him completely.

He let Slava in, locking the door behind him. The two men sat at a card table and spoke in hushed tones.

"Maxim, your nephew Joshua was arrested - they caught him reciting his morning prayers."

"Oy vey! How are Marina and Igor taking it?"

"Not well - they weren't home, but neighbors saw it and let them know. They want Nathan with them. I've come to take him home."

"Understandable. I'll get him right now."

He turned to his students, and found them sitting on their Siddurs, intensely playing with their dreidels.

Mr. Lainer smiled in spite of himself.

Deuteronomy 6:4, JPS

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This article has been read 1452 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Donna Haug10/20/06
We take our religious freedoms so much for granted! I liked all the Hebrew names and customs. You know what you're talking about, yet it's not over our heads. Good work.
Gregory Kane10/21/06
Sorry, but I really donít think it worked. There was too much technical language for such a short piece and the connection with the police was left hanging in the air. Would probably work better under a different topic
Valora Otis10/21/06
I for one loved this piece. I politely disagree with the technical comment above. I connected with the spirit of the piece. Bless you for sharing this slice of history with us all. For all I know it still goes on. May we never take our religious freedoms for granted.
Laurie Glass 10/21/06
Thank you for reminding us about what a privilege it is to have our religious freedom. Creative take on the topic. Good job.
Melanie Smith-Taylor10/21/06
I love Jewish history and am familiar with what you discuss in this piece. Might I suggest that you contact Jews for Jesus and David Brickner with this piece? While you may not get paid, it would be a ministering article that would reach thousands of Jews and Gentiles. I think that your work is timely because we in America take religious freedoms for granted but, as a Charlie Daniels song proclaims, the day is rapidly coming when we will be just like the characters in your story. I perfectly understood the police connection and that although this time it was a friend, the next time it may not be. Well done.
Val Clark10/21/06
I like the subtle way you infer the presence of police. The end had me smiling. Technical language? The small amount you used flavored the piece. You gave enough clues so that the reader could interpret without being slowed down..

Peggy Bennitt10/21/06
What a great glimpse of what others have been and are dealing with to keep their faith alive and to pass it on. How quickly young minds pick up and hold important information. What a gift is the written word...and how blest we are to be a part of a writing heritage. My brain is holding on to all your word pictures. See what you started? See what an influence the written word can be? God has blessed you with a gift. Thank you for sharing!
Amy Michelle Wiley 10/21/06
I really enjoyed this story. Well done! I was hoping to be reminded of what the symbols on the dreidel mean, but I loved how the boys remembered what the teacher had said and were playing with them when he came back.
Ann FitzHenry10/21/06
What a wonderful entry! I loved your title. A lesson learned indeed. Thanks for giving us all something to think about.
Edy T Johnson 10/21/06
Ooh! Just when you had me thoroughly engrossed, the story came to an end. I hope you have more chapters in the works.
Marilyn Schnepp 10/23/06
Very interesting story, but raises so many questions for this reader. What country did this meeting take place? And about the Writer; who is now obviously a Christian, (at FW)how did they become a Christian? But the story was very good, (even with unknown foreign words) but loved the ending! Yes, the topic "police" was lurking ever so near throughout.
Jan Ackerson 10/23/06
Oh, this is excellent! Love being educated in such an entertaining way, and the ending was absolutely perfect.
Donna Powers 10/23/06
This was a well written reminder of the wonderful freedom that we have to worship God. I enjoyed the characters and the story. Thanks so much for sharing this!
Helen Paynter10/24/06
I thought this was great. I do have some questions- would like to know the exact setting you had in mind - but I enjoyed the atmosphere you conjured and it was very powerful.
Lynda Lee Schab 10/25/06
Joanne, You should definitely write more pieces like this. Your history/knowledge of this subject could really be used in a lot of ways through your writing. Excellent story. Great writing, as always.
dub W10/25/06
Intense and such an introspective story - I loved it, very well written.
Sara Harricharan 10/25/06
This was great. It is amazing how we take so much for granted-while others lives are risked to read God's word. I wished it could have been expanded a bit though-but good job!
Cassie Memmer10/26/06
I really enjoyed this story. It's written very well, smooth and engrossing. Good job!
Suzanne R10/27/06
I love being taken to other places and cultures, and this piece totally did that for me. Thank you. I thought it was great.
Jacquelyn Horne09/18/07
This is very good and informative. I hope you made a complete story from this and told more about its setting. Would really like to know more.